Syria's Assad 'has to go', Britain's Hammond says

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (R) during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 20, 2015 (AFP Photo/Alexey Druzhinin)

Prague (AFP) - President Bashar al-Assad "has to go" as part of a transition in Syria, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Friday on the eve of the Syrian talks in Vienna.

"Bashar al-Assad has to go as part of the transition in Syria, but we recognise that if there will be a transition he may play a part up to a point in that transition," Hammond said in Prague.

"We are very clear that we are not seeking to destroy the institutions of government in Syria, in fact we are very clear that we want to maintain these institutions."

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview released Friday that Russia has no "right" to ask the Syrian president to leave power.

The weekend talks in Vienna will bring together around 20 countries and international bodies to hammer out a roadmap for peace to end Syria's more than four-year civil war.

Western officials have already dismissed a Moscow-authored political reform plan touted for the meeting -- the second in Vienna in less than a month -- saying it does not clarify what will happen to Assad.

Previous attempts to end the civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and forced millions from their homes, have stumbled over his fate.

The West insists he must go, while Russia and Iran support the regime. Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have gathered pace since Russia launched air strikes in Syria in late September.